Inside No. 9 Merrily Merrily begins Series 7 with a solemn tale of friendship, loss, and time never fully healing.
Inside No. 9 written by, and starring Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton returns for its seventh series on BBC Two with the episode Merrily Merrily reminding us all how talented the duo are at creating self-contained stories.
Guest-starring fellow League of Gentleman Mark Gatiss, and comic actor Diane Morgan and set entirely on a pedalo on an empty wintery lake, Merrily Merrily excels as masterful writing that partners intelligent characters, comedic moments, and a Greek mythological purgatory. Creating an eerily tone, and one that manipulates audience expectations all the same.
We are led to believe that the episode will become some fateful revenge plot for Darren (Pemberton) and Callum (Gatiss), former friends of Lawrence (Shearsmith) from their time at University, made all the more complicated by the inclusion of Darren’s recent squeeze, Donna (Morgan) who misunderstood the invite to be a party boat with Judge Rinder.
Even on a surface level, the casting of Gatiss as a friend of Pemberton and Shearsmith adds truth to the tale, with Gatiss having worked with Pemberton and Shearsmith for decades in productions including The League of Gentlemen, Amazon Prime‘s Good Omens, and the upcoming production, The Unfriend.
The surrealist misunderstandings become the central plot points, with the characters spending the second act resolving their decades built misunderstanding, whilst Lawrence is there to mourn the loss of his wife Bonnie.
Inside No. 9 triumphs at telling a small, self-contained story, and making it feel larger than life itself and Merrily Merrily is no different.
Especially when in previous episodes Inside No. 9 masterfully uses audience expectations to create a twist in the story, it is this that gives Merrily Merrily a refreshing nuance.
I believe that the episode expected us to wait for the revenge plot by Lawrence, after having a shift in his behaviour in the second act, but rather leans onto audience expectations until the last minute before introducing the final moment of shock.
Lawrence awakens on a boat, passing the same empty pedalo, with the lake now metaphorically reminiscent of the River Styx from Greek mythology as a figure mirroring Charon from the tale rows Lawrence up the shore to be reunited with his wife after coughing up an obol true to the Greek tale.
But, the episode titled Merrily Merrily then raises the ambiguous question of whether in fact, to Lawrence, “life is but a dream” suggesting that after falling asleep next to his wife’s shrine, the reuniting was only bitter-sweet.
Furthermore, where Merrily Merrily excels is by entirely fleshing out their characters so that we are fully understanding who they are, why they behave a certain way, and what drives them.
For instance, Pemberton’s Darren is introduced with a humourous delivery of referring to a pedalo as a paedo and expresses aspirations of writing a book that develops reading skills, which Callum shoots down as an awful idea, however, we later learn that Darren “when life gives you melons, you’re probably dyslexic” contextualising every literary misunderstanding, and adds an additional layer to the pedalo/paedo joke.
Shearsmith and Pemberton are undoubtedly at the top of their game, and if the rest of the series continues with such momentum then we will surely be in for a treat.
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